by Jane Scully
The gentle name of this plant perfectly fits its soft, light, ferny presence. The small, five-petaled white flowers in flat clusters are so delicate. The fern-like leaflets, deeply lobed and toothed, set off the white flowers as both move gently in the breeze. Standing between 1 and 3 feet high, they are a perfect May wildflower.
Sweet cicely is found in moist woods, where its green leaves and white flowers show to nice advantage. I have, however, seen it in much fuller sun along stream banks. It is an abundant plant throughout our area and is, of course, a native, growing from Saskatchewan to Georgia!
Sweet cicely is a member of the large parsley family. Its root has an anise-like odor, not surprising considering its near relationship to anise root. The plant was considered to have medicinal purposes as well. American Indians chewed the root for sore throats by American Indians and drunk as a tea for coughs. As a poultice it was used on boils, cuts and wounds.
However, warnings abound. "Do not confuse with poison hemlock!" No, let's not. Its ingestion can be lethal and even contact with its leaves can cause skin irritation. Poison hemlock is appropriately a much grosser looking plant-but I'd suggest you not eat either of them, for safety's sake!
Photos by the author